Why Do Employees Underperform?

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

Why Employees UnderperformThe best free lean magazine I know of, Industry Week, recently discussed an interesting survey done by LifeCare Inc. where they investigated why some employees underperform in their jobs. 

While I am from the school that says you need to take most surveys with a grain of salt since they are often biased based on who is asked to respond, I did find these results particularly interesting. 

As the above graph shows (click to enlarge it) the number 1 reason employees often underperform (two years running I might add) is the employee felt overloaded and didn’t have enough time to finish all tasks.  The second reason (aside from ‘other’) was that basic job expectations were not made clear.

Muri means to overburden equipment or operators.  In many cases, muri can be avoided by the implementation of some basic forms of standard work

If, for example, we learn it takes a trained person working at a comfortable pace 30 minutes to complete a task we can easily see asking them to complete 19 of these tasks (570 minutes or 9.5 hours of work) in an 8 hour day is unrealistic (and unfair).

What other ideas do you have for helping employees escape the torture of muri?

  1. Larry Richardson

    May 9, 2008 - 12:23 pm

    I agree with you on the need for standard work. In addition to this having visual control boards in place (a form of standard work I guess) can also help since once a person or team falls behind, the supervisor should be able to quickly see this by looking at the production board. Once this occurs the supervisor can either jump in and help out or go and get others to come and help.

  2. Ron Pereira

    May 9, 2008 - 2:27 pm

    Excellent point, Larry. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Lester Sutherland

    May 9, 2008 - 2:50 pm

    I think my employees could do more than 9 – 30 minute tasks in 8 hours. Asking them to do only 9 would show lack of respect for their work effort.

  4. Ron Pereira

    May 9, 2008 - 3:09 pm

    Lester, my friend, this has been one tough week of blogging with the typos! Must be the 6 hour time difference.

    You are absolutely right since (9) 30 minute tasks would mean 270 minutes of work or 4.5 hours. I’d guess they could probably get that done.

    How about I get my head out of my rear and type something that supports my point… like maybe (19) 30 minutes tasks!

  5. Ron Pereira

    May 9, 2008 - 3:29 pm

    Hi Mike, actually I was trying to share the link to sign up for the free magazine: http://www.submag.com/sub/iy.

    Is this link not working for you? I tested it and it works on my computer. Maybe you have to click through from their homepage (weird cookie thing?).

  6. Peter Patterson, MD

    May 9, 2008 - 4:43 pm

    It’s always puzzled me why people seem so gullible about these “surveys” where ‘workers’ are asked to self-report reasons for failure to perform. Humans are hard-wired at the factory to respond in whatever ways do not make them look bad or deflect any criticism, etc.

    In anything worth doing that requires groups or teams to produce an intended outcome, you can have either ‘Results’ or ‘Reasons’. These types of surveys glorify and sanctify reasons – read excuses – and tend to make a sincere ‘Reason’ essentially as good as a real ‘Result’.

    Even multiple grains of salt don’t work … to me, these sorts of ‘surveys’ are just a lot of bovine excreta.
    /Dr. P

  7. Lester Sutherland

    May 9, 2008 - 6:54 pm

    “Humans are hard-wired at the factory to respond in whatever ways do not make them look bad or deflect any criticism, etc.” Wow Dr. P. you must really have good luck with your problem solving work teams….

  8. Peter Patterson, MD

    May 10, 2008 - 10:15 am

    Your comment is much appreciated. My particular example of hard-wiring applies only to the situation where people will avoid taking responsibility for their results when the objective is not reached.
    People are also hard-wired to contribute their best and this is what we tap into when problem-solving in a team.
    Both ‘wirings’ are at work and to me the game is to focus on the contribution side but not be gulled by the shuffle and weave side.
    /Dr. P

  9. John

    May 10, 2008 - 7:37 pm

    I have some experience from both the production worker side and the support worker side.

    I have seen great productivity results when a pull system is used. Each piece is passed to the next station. When 1 station holds up production the other stations are quick to address the station and insist on improvement. This happens between coworkers.

    Support workers, such as in the quality and maintenance functions, work most effectively when they are required to make progress on measurable goals for each of them individually. This ‘goal’ work is above the regular daily duties which much be maintained.

    2-hr rotation of jobs is also effective in improving output; by reducing boredom.

    Overall I feel it is the responsibility of management to provide leadership by informing each employee of the daily goals and needs of the company. This is not to hand-hold, but to help employees know the importance of their contribution to the organization. Daily, weekly and monthly feedback is very important.

  10. Chris Akins

    May 10, 2008 - 8:39 pm

    Hi Ron,

    I’ve always felt that the primary role of a leader is that of a motivator and enabler. If you want the most efficiency from your employees you not only have to give them a reason (beyond the threat of losing something, like a job or bonus) to work, but also provide them with the tools and environment that is conducive to their success. All too often I think managers fail to do either, and jsut take the “get er done” attitude towards their workers without providing the inspiration, tools or processes to set them up for success. This invariably leeds to low morale, low efficiency and high rates of failure.

    Just my 3 pennies worth…


  11. Chris Akins

    May 10, 2008 - 8:46 pm

    Dr P.

    I’m sorry, I must respectfully disagree with the notion that people are hard wired to deflect responsibility for failure. I think that such behavior is driven more by a work environment that rewards that sort of behavior, and does not tolerate mistakes or afford employees the opportunity to grow and learn from their mistakes. I’ve found that when the propoer environment exists, people will accept responsibility for failures as long as their are opportunities to improve. A significant part of being a leader is creating such an environment.


  12. Lester Sutherland

    May 11, 2008 - 9:40 am

    Dr P.
    I appreciate your response. One issue is that many workers do not feel enabled, so we need to understand their hesitancy to accept responsibility. Once they know they can make a difference as you said, they dig in and contribute. I also find the surveys and charts suspect unless I have the details of all the questions and the analysis.

  13. Morelli

    May 14, 2008 - 5:09 pm

    Treat others the way you like to be treated…..this is one of the traits of leadership and a guide for employee excellent performance
    A. Morelli

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